Death of Broadband Privacy in Venice? What’s the Deal with Joost & Viacom?

Reporters are hyping the new deal between Joost and Viacom. Missing from the discussion is the impact of the new video service on privacy and commercialism. According to Advertising Age (my bold):

“So far, Joost’s ad model includes five- to seven-second ads that pop up when certain videos are initiated and mid-roll video ads in videos more than five minutes long, the number of which are scaled pro rata to the length of the content. Wrigley, T-Mobile, Maybelline and Phillips are among the beta advertisers. The idea is to have a single advertiser sponsor a piece of content, but to give it multiple elements, Mr. Clark said.

Like other web ads, they’re interactive and let users click through for more info, e-mail offers and long-form messages. The service also touts what will be powerful targeting and reporting capabilities. Echoing Joost’s founders, Mr. Clark said, “We’re combining the best of the web with the best of TV.”

We hope Joost will clearly spell out what data is being collected and reported to Viacom and others. We don’t believe its privacy policy addresses what it will be providing, for example, its new partner Viacom. But services such as Joost should embrace privacy policies which fully disclose precisely the information provided to advertisers. Opt-in should also be the standard, once users are formally and proactively informed.

Joost update. Here’s how Joost plans to help marketers conduct precision targeting, according to Octagon Music blog: “For every user that downloads the Joost application, part of the registration process is to complete a user profile with typical demographic information. It’s this user profile that will be an advertiser’s dream. Imagine being able to target viewers by location, time of day, viewing habits, and other profile information to serve up the perfect ad… Friis and Zennstram believe this unlocked targeting power will command a premium in terms of dollars from advertisers, which will hopefully keep Joost up and running.”

Media industry watcher Jack Myers reports that “advertisers will be able to cherry pick users by location, time/date of viewing, viewing history and preferences, and even profiles of Joost members who opt-in. In the future both advertisers (and programmers) will have the flexibility to upload content themselves…”
Source: Why Joost Isn’t Just Your Average `YouTube Killer’. Abbey Klaassen. Advertising Age. Feb. 26, 2007 [sub. required]


We couldn’t resist this: “Fox Interactive Media (FIM)… announced today that it has completed the acquisition of interactive advertising technology company, Strategic Data Corporation (SDC)…SDC’s technology will enable FIM to deliver highly-targeted graphical performance-based advertising on literally billions of Web pages viewed each day across its growing network. Fox Interactive Media, which spans MySpace, IGN, Direct2Drive,, and more, is among the most visited networks on the Internet with more than 135 million worldwide unique visitors each month and is the number one most viewed network in the U.S. with over 40 billion pages viewed each month…“We couldn’t be more pleased to join the Fox Interactive Media family,” said Richard Janssen, SDC CEO. “FIM is truly innovating how brands reach consumers in a socially networked world and we look forward to bringing our technologies and team to the effort.” reports that SDC’s technologies provide “sophisticated statistical and predictive algorithms, demographic and geographic segmentation, and performance tracking…”


Enhanced Media Network to Bring Hyper-targeted Ad Serving to Reality

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IAB: Worried that the Feds Will Do the Right Thing

Here’s a brief update on IAB. They are, notes ClickZ’s Kate Kaye, “…in the process of creating a Public Policy Council, to be comprised of Chief Public Policy Officers, General Counsels and IAB members. Tacoda Chairman Dave Morgan is heading up that operation, according to the IAB. Legislation and regulatory issues will have an enormous impact” on the interactive ad industry, said Rothenberg, noting, “We should be concerned, but we shouldn’t be crazy scared.”

Given that IAB’s new president Randall Rotherberg used to be a journalist (covering advertising for the New York Times and Ad Age), one would hope that he would be in the forefront of having his industry face up to facts. The basic business model is a threat to privacy and more. It’s gone beyond the time for “public policy councils” run by the industry’s spinmeisters. What’s needed is an honest admission of the problem, and support for a federal policy where consumers opt-in to all the techniques (after they are fully informed). That’s right. You need to get permission from individuals before you engage in behavioral targeting, retargeting, immersive rich media, etc. We imagine most people will consent. But it should be up to each person-not Ad Networks, IAB members, etc.

PS: Mr. Rothenberg: Don’t hide behind the press! We see that the IAB president quoted saying “The Interactive media industry is committed to striking the right balance between consumer protection and a consumer’s free online access to information and entertainment.” That’s not the real issue. No one is saying there shouldn’t be interactive advertising–or even the kind of personalized interactive practices the industry has embraced (with some notable exceptions). We understand the role which advertising plays to support the media. What we are saying is there have to be safeguards. In fact, ironically, I believe interactive ad practices done in the current stealth manner will help to undermine public confidence in the news media. The growing debate over online advertising is primarily about giving the public real information and control.

New Threats to Privacy: Interactive Ad Bureau (IAB) Hires D.C. Lobbyist

The interactive ad lobby–that includes most publishers of major newspapers, magazines and online outlets–is worried that consumer advocates might persuade Congress or the FTC to actually do something to protect digital privacy. Groups such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) are alarmed that if consumers can actually control their data, the ability of digital marketers to collect, profile, track and target us will be threatened. So the IAB–which has a old and new media who’s who on its board–has brought in some political help. According to Online Media Daily:

AIMING TO INCREASE ITS SWAY over government, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has opened a Washington, D.C. office and hired its first in-house lobbyist, Mike Zaneis…he and lobbyists from the Venable law firm have been talking with Congressional staffers on the IAB’s behalf. “We’ve been educating them on how the Internet works, and what the interactive advertising industry actually is and how it operates,” said Zaneis, who previously served as executive director of technology and e-commerce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Presumably, the IAB will be working alongside DC lobbyists for Google, Yahoo!, Time Warner and the like to ensure that our digital media platforms provide a direct connection to Madison Avenue’s data warehouses. But they should be ashamed for creating a business model where direct access to our data across countless online media properties needs to be defended by special interest lobbying tactics.

PS: We just saw the ClickZ story. It’s very telling what the new IAB DC lobbyist said:
“…Zaneis says his initial plan of is, “Putting together a public policy council, developing positions on key issues, and leveraging the contacts that I have on the Hill, and in the FTC and other places. And then it’s a take no prisoners attitude to advocate for our members.”

Cut the Fat and Corporate Tie-ins PBS! Program on Obesity Funded by GlaxoSmithKline, Maker of Drug for “Overweight Adults”

“Fat: What No One is Telling You” appears on PBS stations April 11th. We note that funding comes in part from GlaxoSmithKline. The drug giant just happens to have a recently approved for over-the-counter drug on the market–under the brand name Alli â„¢ –that is for “use by overweight adults along with a reduced calorie, low-fat diet.” A PBS health-related campaign was launched Feb. 14. PBS program executives need to `cut the fat’ out of their sloppy review of what’s appropriate for underwriting. Programs on PBS should be free of connections to sponsors who have a vested interest in an issue. PBS should “take one step” [that’s the name of a related health public education campaign they’re running] and clean up its underwriting practices.

How long will the Federal Trade Commission wait before it decides to act to safeguard consumer privacy and protection online? Advocates will likely have to ask Congress to organize an oversight “Tech-ache” to prod the agency into some sort of action. Note this excerpt below as just one example of how the FTC is asleep at the interactive advertising/data collection `digital’ switch.

“Imagine the value to a national automaker of isolating a swath of people so ready to splurge on a fuel-friendly hybrid they’ve price shopped and maybe even placed an eBay bid to buy a Prius. Now, imagine if that auto advertiser could follow those folks around the web — from news sites to social-networking pages — serving up ads that remind them of the benefits of owning a hybrid car. It’s a pretty appealing prospect to marketers, and exactly what they will be able to do if Yahoo gets its way… “We’re actually in a fairly unique position to be able to take advantage … of the enormous data and insight we have on the largest online audience in the world,” Ms. Decker said in Yahoo’s year-end earnings call Jan. 23. “We can see what people are putting in their search strings. We can see what kinds of ads they click on. We can see what kinds of sites they were on prior to the site that they are currently on…”

from: The Right Ads at the Right Time — via Yahoo: Web Giant Looks to Offer Behavioral-targeting Tools Outside Its Own Properties
Abbey Klaassen. Advertising Age. Feb. 5, 2007 [subscription required]

Susan Decker, CFO, bio link.

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Elmo Pushes Pizza! Hey, Sesame Workshop and Co. Stop Counting Kids Dollars

CNN Money reports that Elmo will soon by promoting pizza. A new toy via Mattel will be “an Elmo doll holding a pizza, and the pizza talks and sings along with Elmo. The toy is expected to retail for $19.99.”

We think the folks at Sesame Workshop need to rethink what “Elmo’s World” should be like. Is it one that further commercializes childhood and pushes junk food, all to help bolster the Workshop’s bottom line? Shouldn’t companies that benefit from federal funding and public television distribution adhere to some higher level of conduct? Licensing of Elmo and other public broadcasting related products for children require a serious set of federal and PBS safeguards. We hope Gary Knell and company listen. Congress surely should, as it considers public broadcasting (PBS) funding.

Ad Age editorial attacks my "Digital Destiny" book

Trade publications are designed to be part of an industry’s political self-defense system. So it isn’t surprising that Advertising Age has an editorial in its new issue attacking my “Brandwashing” critique. Interestingly, it avoids addressing the many facts I cite in the book, including how advertisers are using brain research, virtual reality, and a marketing is everywhere/all time “360 degree” approach [the 360 term is what the ad industry calls its new strategy]. It’s interesting that the magazine’s editorial writers–probably on behalf of the industry–don’t want the public to ask the serious questions which are raised in the book. Here’s how they rationalize data collection propelled interactive, virtual reality-driven, personalized ads targeting us via PC, mobile, and TV:

“Making marketing more effective is what marketers are paid to do. And as long as they operate within legal and ethical bounds, they should be allowed to. While privacy is a legitimate concern, there’s something to be said for targeted ad messages. What would the average person rather be subjected to, an annoying random pop-up or an ad message tailored specifically for her? (Numerous studies have answered that seemingly obvious question.)

Finally, what consumers and activists seem to forget is that the only reason media content is free or affordable for so many is that major corporations foot the majority of the infrastructure and production bills. Then again, we could turn everything over to the government, which would no doubt create wholesome content at minimal cost to the taxpayer, all the while respecting consumer privacy.”

Have no fear—as we promote the book we will raise all these issues: privacy, manipulation, stealth marketing, immersive applications, brain research, vulnerable consumers. That’s why we are going to the Hill as well!
Source: “Brandwashing? Not Even Close.” Advertising Age. January 15, 2007

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The Brandwashing of America: Micropersuasion in the Digital Era. Adapted from my new book, Digital Destiny

(The following commentary was published by Advertising Age online, Jan. 9, 2007)

‘Digital Destiny’ Author Jeff Chester on How New Media Is Causing the Brandwashing of America

Published: January 09, 2007

We are witnessing the creation of the most powerful media and communications system ever developed. A flood of compelling video images propelled by the interactivity of the internet will be delivered though digital TVs, PCs, cellphones, digital video recorders, iPods, and countless mobile devices. These technologies will surround us, immerse us, always be on, wherever we are — at home, work or play.


Jeff Chester is the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Washington a nonprofit policy group focusing on digital communications. | ALSO: Comment on this issue in the ‘Your Opinion’ box below.

Related Story:

America Is Being ‘Brandwashed’ Claims Author
Jeff Chester Says Ad Industry Secretly Tracks Consumers

Following our travels
Much of the programming will be personalized, selected by us with the help of increasingly sophisticated, but largely invisible, technologies that will “sense” or “know” our interests, dislikes, and habits. Information about our travels — in cyber and real space — will be collected and stored, most often without our awareness. Our personal data will be the basis of computerized profiles that quickly generate commercial pitches honed to precisely fit our psychology and behavior.

A ubiquitous system of micropersusaion is emerging, where the potent forces of new media are being unleashed to influence our individual behavior. From the ad industry’s initiatives to better perfect measures such as “engagement,” to the MI4 research effort (Measurement Initiative for Advertising, Agencies, Media and Researchers) to harness the power of the unconscious mind, to the rapid evolution of “rich media” virtual applications, a marketing technological “arms race” is underway that will further permeate advertising and marketing in our daily lives.

Wherever we are — online or in the street connected by mobile devices — Americans (and much of the world) will be increasingly influenced by the technologies of digital marketing. Such a system will be greatly aided by the scores of supplemental “real world” marketing efforts, including teams of viral street marketers and brand evangelists (many of whom are not yet old enough to vote!).

Increasing power
The ad industry likes to claim that the public has more control over what advertising they see or whether they like it at all. Many Ad Age readers point to the increasing expansion of the media and argue that advertising is now less powerful. But such assertions are disingenuous. Fueled by global media consolidation, advertisers are now working even more closely with content companies. Product placement has morphed into “program” placement and beyond. Like radio and the early days of broadcast TV, marketing, distribution and content are increasingly seamless. The broadband internet, digital TV and new forms of mobile communications are all being shaped by the forces of marketing. As I argue in my new book, “Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy,” advertising is becoming more powerful, not less.

In the book, I chronicle the ad industry’s role in helping shape the early development of the internet, including how groups and companies such as the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), Procter & Gamble Co., and The New York Times promoted what was once called the “Internet Advertising Ecosystem.” It covers the evolution of the “one-to-one,” “new media” marketing paradigm that still serves as the industry’s basic digital blueprint (further fueled today by sophisticated off- and online data collection, web analytics, interactivity and the branding power of video). The ad industry’s substantial research and political infrastructure — including ARF, Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies, Interactive Advertising Bureau, its many councils and committees and global groups such as Esomar — are also explained.

From online “behavioral targeting” to interactive ad networks to “virtual hosts” and other “socially intelligent interfaces,” the book attempts to lay bare what marketers plan for the country’s “digital destiny.” Although readers of Ad Age know well what is now underway and its likely impact, the public is largely uninformed. One of my goals is to encourage a meaningful national debate about the current direction of the ad and marketing industry and its impact on society.

Let consumers decide
One of the most serious concerns is about privacy. Most marketers and advertisers are opposed to permitting consumers/users to have real control over their data. They want the default to be the collection of information so we can be precisely targeted. That’s why privacy groups, including my own Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), want Congress to pass legislation requiring a full disclosure of what information is being collected, via what method, and how it is to be used. After examining such details, each consumer would decide on a periodic basis whether to agree to permit the collection of their data (known as “opt-in”).

The current “opt-out” system, where consumers have to proactively seek to place their personal information off-limits, is designed to ensure that most consumers consent by default to data collection. New threats to our privacy from marketers and advertisers have emerged, including behavioral targeting, online retargeting (where consumers are digitally shadowed over ad networks), and the emergence of “intelligent ad engines” placed in cellphones and other mobile devices.

Recently, CDD and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group jointly filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to declare many of today’s interactive advertising industry practices, including behavioral targeting and virtual advertising, unfair and deceptive. It appears that the FTC is now slowly lifting its head out of the digital sand to seriously investigate the industry based on our complaint. But it will take prodding from the new Congress to get the FTC to act.

Safeguards for new technology
Beyond privacy, interactive-marketing technologies also raise unique concerns about “vulnerable” populations. Unleashing personalized and cyber-virtual marketing to children, teens, prescription-drug users, and the elderly raise important questions related to public health. These groups will need to be protected with new safeguards. But even more is at stake. The entire system of interactive advertising must become more transparent and requires intense public scrutiny, debate, and — where needed — effective public policies.

For example, advertisers are now working to harness the power of our emotions through research on “neuroscience” and “psychophysiology.” As the ARF and AAAA explained in 2005 during Advertising Week, the industry wants to “capture unconscious thought, recognition of symbols and metaphors.”

“Emotional responses can be created even if we have no awareness of the stimuli that caused them,” the ARF and AAAA noted. Such potential manipulation of a consumer’s unconscious will be even more powerful when delivered by virtual agents (such as avatars) that have been fashioned (via data profiling) to dovetail with our desires and interests.

What’s the long-term impact?
I fear that such a powerful psychosocial stealth-marketing machine, backed by the yearly expenditure of many billions of marketing dollars, will drive personal consumption to greater excess. What will be the impact on our environment, such as global warming, as a steady stream of interactive marketing messages are planted deep into our brains wherever we go? Will the digital push to buy and positively associate with brands promote an even more narcissistic human culture? What will be the impact of our personalized communications marketing system on the healthy development of children, families and communities?

The ad and marketing industries have an important role to play in our society, especially helping financially support news, information, and entertainment services. I recognize that advertising will continue to be a very powerful force in our lives. But marketers need to demonstrate greater social responsibility. They must ensure that consumers fully understand and consent to digital techniques; make certain that approaches to target our emotions and other brain behaviors are truly safe (including the impact of virtual reality); and, most importantly, help our media system evolve in a way that strengthens civil society.

Such a goal is not for the U.S. alone, but also involves how the marketing industry serves the public in the developing world. For example, what will be the impact on the world environment as China’s emerging digital infrastructure is bombarded with one-to-one commercial messages promoting automobiles?

The creation of a broadband media system will be viewed by future generations as one of our society’s most significant accomplishments. Will it be seen as one of the highest achievements for a democracy, a place in cyberspace that helped enrich the lives of many and offered new opportunities for an outpouring of cultural and civic expression? Or will it been seen years hence as a new version of what the late scholar Neil Postman aptly described as a medium even more capable of “amusing ourselves to death”? The readers of Ad Age will help determine that answer.

~ ~ ~
This column was adapted from Mr. Chester’s new book “Digital Destiny” (The New Press, 2007).

MSN’s Holiday Challenge: Using Sweepstakes to Collect Your Data for Uncle Bill. Not Santa

The new sweepstakes run by Microsoft’s MSN unit–Holiday Challenge [‘Win Up to $50,000]–is emblematic of one of the key ways online marketers collect your personal and related data. Hey, they say. `Wanna win some big bucks?’ Just fill out the form to play. They assume, natch, that you won’t be clued in to the data collection and branding game going on. They don’t make much of the lifeless link which takes you to its privacy “Highlights” page (you have to click again after that if you want to reach the full privacy policy pages). Once enrolled in the game, Microsoft will be able to learn about your behavior online at various MSN pages–all the while you have to endure rich media/search engine pitches for products.

Microsoft, we know, is now seeking to develop a business model for the always-on era. Selling software can no longer cut it as a steady and significant revenue source. But Microsoft should do this in a way that makes it the corporate leader fostering privacy online–as well as supporting content and culture that enriches democracy. Its new sweepstakes ploy reveals a cynical lack of both imagination and commitment to do something better.